Barack and Bibi: Nobody Drowned!
The mini-summit between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahou went off with hardly a hitch yesterday. Both men carefully avoided backing the other into a corner on issues that divide them, and each sought to nudge the other toward an emphasis on what serves him best and thus sought to avoid what does not. Both men, in other words, successfully treaded water.
Clearly the preferred ordering of agenda items was different for the two men. Obama wanted to talk about the two-state solution, and Bibi did not. Bibi wanted to talk about the Iranian threat, and Barack wanted to make sure that was not the centerpiece of the discussion. In the end, they talked about both and agreed on neither. This was hardly a surprise.
Like the Wizard of Oz standing behind the curtain belching smoke, Netanyahou attempted to argue he was all peace with the Palestinians, saying demurely that Israel has no desire to rule the Palestinians and that they would like to move toward Palestinian autonomy and prosperity. This, of course, is all code language for dragging out the peace process more or less indefinitely until the West Bank is so overwhelmingly Israeli that no Palestinian state there is possible. Moreover, Bibi intoned that any agreement must “allow Israel the means to defend itself,” which is code language for no Palestinian military and the “right” of Israel to defend the Palestinian entity. Everyone knows the Palestinians cannot and will not accept any of this and that it is, to put it mildly, disengenuous to put it forward in a serious manner. As Obama said that expansion of the settlements must stop, you could virtually hear the cement mixers pouring more foundations and the carpenters hammering more nails into new settlements–and the peace process. To his credit, Bibi said all this with a straight face. To his credit, Obama did not reply, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
The other part of all this is Iran, a subject of past entries here. Clearly, Netanyahou came to Washington with two purposes on this issue. One was to keep the United States from fully condemning Israeli contingencies for attacking Iran in advance. The other was to try to convince the Americans that solving the Iran problem was both more urgent than and prefatory to the pesky Palestinian problem. Once again, the Wizard stood behind the screen shouting with great bluster. Obama replied he agreed the problem should have out attention.
Bibi’s real message, in my reading, was contained in a statement he made publicly. “We want to move simultaneously and then parallel on two fronts: the front of peace and the front of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” He certainly reversed the order in which he would like the two issues considered, at least from his vantage point. In the end, Bibi’s real intent was to divert attention from the Palestinian issue by elevating Iran to a higher level of concern, and one where the two countries are not in quite such basic disagreement. Whether he succeeded or not remains to be seen.